(CNN) –— Category 5 Hurricane Irma has become one of the strongest storms recorded in the Atlantic, and is threatening to slam into Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with “potentially catastrophic” force on Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said.
Irma, One of the Strongest Storms Recorded in the Atlantic. Islands Must Brace.
It’s too early to tell how and whether the storm will affect the US mainland, but current forecast tracks show it could turn toward Florida over the weekend.
Irma was churning west Tuesday afternoon in the Atlantic with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph — well above the 157 mph threshold for a Category 5 — about 180 miles east of Antigua and Barbuda, the hurricane center said.
The last storm with sustained winds that strong in the Atlantic was 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, which weakened before it brushed Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and crossed Florida. Its Atlantic wind speeds are behind only 1980’s Hurricane Allen, which peaked at 190 mph at sea.
Irma’s forecast track currently has it near or over Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Anguilla by late Tuesday or early Wednesday, and the British and US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon.